Sorry, We're Closed

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Last Man Standing

Jim Hendry is still in the saddle as the Cubs' GM.

Why in the world should he, the architect of the miserable failures that have been the 2005-06 Cubs, remain in his post while Manager Dusty Baker's contract was not renewed and club President Andy MacPhail was forced to resign?

Simple. Hendry still has two years to go on his contract.

The Cubs owed Baker nothing following the end of the season; his contract simply lapsed. Therefore the decision to let him go was simple. Handshake, walk off the pier, end of story. Bye-bye.

MacPhail, who recently told local writer George Castle that he never worked with a contract--instead simply receiving an annual seven-figure salary in a classic "gentleman's agreement"--was similarly told that his services would no longer be required following a brief transition period. Bye-bye.

Hendry, however, received a two-year extension from MacPhail this past summer. Perhaps this was MacPhail's version of the Lovely Parting Gift presented to losing game-show contestants. Whatever it was, it snapped shut the Tribune Company's ever-tightening corporate fists. Unless forced by street demonstrations, scandal, boycotts, or firebombs (and I am NOT suggesting the latter), the Tribune would rather go out of business--or endorse a Democratic presidential candidate--than fire a highly paid employee with two years left on his or her contract.

So Hendry remains on his post, despite a record suggesting something just short of managerial incompetence. His greatest moments--trades acquiring good players from financially strapped franchises--don't make up for a lack of organizational philosophy. Due to MacPhail's fiscally conservative approach, other clubs have more and better scouts and more and better front-office resources. And due to Hendry's own lack of experience in professional baseball, other clubs have more and better brains running baseball operations.

As long as the Cubs lack an approach toward winning ballgames any deeper than "if we all play well, we'll win," they're doomed. Hendry's inability to grasp how teams win or lose continues to bite him, and while some of his scouts are extremely qualified, others have made very poor decisions--and Hendry hasn't effectively sorted out the good advice from the bad.

Meanwhile, MacPhail takes his conservative, low-key, quietly ineffectual 1950s-style approach back to Lake Forest, and Baker interviews for baseball's French Foreign Legion, the Washington Nationals. Both men may enjoy themselves far more in 2007 than they did in 2006.

Just watch to see how much hotter the GM's chair gets for Hendry this year. Hard to fight a battle when you're naked, out of ammo, and don't have a strategy.


Anonymous jamesfinngarner said...

McPhail was the "baseball man", the one with the pedigree and the credentials. Then tell me how he let Hendry nake so many bad decisions, keep so many bad advisors around, and generally let the place lapse into chaos?

McPhail was running the place for 12 years, and what's to show for it? a depleted farm system, a cash strapped team, the worst record in the National League.

3:17 PM, October 10, 2006

Blogger Larry Epke said...

"His greatest moments-[snip]-don't make up for a lack of organizational philosophy."

Not to be obtuse, but what is an organizational philosophy? A team, I would think, would try to get the best players it could, through the draft, its minor league system, and through free agency, and try to win games.

I'm thinking of the White Sox, who use their limited (but far from small) financial resources better than many teams. (And while there was a lot of talk about "small ball" and "smart ball" last season, they still hit 200 home runs, so that was oversold.) I don't think "spend wisely" is truely a philosophy, since "spend foolishly" isn't what any team sets out to do. Presumeably each team does what it thinks will best help its chances to win. The Cubs trouble is that they have considerable resources (isn't their payroll among the top 5 in all of MLB?), but that they don't spend wisely.

1:38 PM, October 11, 2006

Blogger Stuart Shea said...


I think you ask a fair question.

What I mean by organizational philosophy is something like what they used to call, in Baltimore, "The Oriole Way." Specifically, in Baltimore it was a focus on fundamentals, focus, good baserunning, throwing strikes, and smart hitting.

Oakland's philosophy has been to acquire good players undervalued by other organizations. The Yankees spend money on high-impact players. The Rockies go for pitchers who keep the ball down and throw strikes.

The Cubs don't have any kind of overall strategy. This is confirmed by interviews my friend and colleague George Castle has done with various farm system coaches and Oneri Fleita, the team's farm director.

3:03 PM, October 11, 2006


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